Indigenous

Obama Restores Mount McKinley to Its Original Alaskan Native Name, ‘Denali’

FloridaStock / Shutterstock.com

Photo via FloridaStock / Shutterstock.com

After over one hundred years of being known as “Mount McKinley,” North America’s tallest mountain will henceforth be officially recognized as “Denali.” President Obama announced the change on Aug. 30 in anticipation of his trip to Alaska, on which he will call for aggressive action against climate change.

Alaskan Native tribes have long objected to the cultural imperialism embedded in the name “Mount McKinley,” which commemorates a man who never even stepped foot in Alaska.

Time to End the Papal Bull

Franck Boston/Shutterstock

Franck Boston/Shutterstock

POPE FRANCIS arrives in the U.S. this September to great acclaim. The popular pontiff will speak truth to power in Congress and at the United Nations and preach the necessity of stewarding creation, promoting an economy for life, and defending human dignity.

He also will canonize Junípero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan missionary who founded the first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California in the 18th century—many say on the backs of Indigenous people. While some call Serra a “shepherd and protector,” others argue he symbolizes the colonial conquest of North America through genocide.

Serra was a human being—sometimes noble, sometimes not. However, his conquest operated under a body of Christian law and policy called the Doctrine of Discovery, a series of papal documents (“bulls”) that granted legal right of ownership to whichever European Christian nation arrived first in the new territory. Since 1823 it has also been enshrined in U.S. law. As recently as 2005, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited it as the basis for denying a land claim by the Oneida people, one of the five founding nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Doctrine of Discovery is based on a principle of Roman law called terra nullius (“nobody’s land”) and grew out of the church’s conviction that “discovered” lands were devoid of human beings if the original people who lived there (defined as “heathens, pagans, and infidels”) were not ruled by a Christian ruler. “The Doctrine mandated Christian European countries to attack, enslave, and kill the Indigenous Peoples they encountered and to acquire all of their assets,” wrote the World Council of Churches in a 2012 statement.

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A Sacred Beat

AT THE WORLD Christian Gathering of Indigenous People in 1996, our North American Native delegation was unable to find any “Christian” Native powwow music that we could use to dance to as part of our entrance into the auditorium. This was important at the time, as we didn’t feel the liberty to use “non-Christian” powwow music for a distinctly Christian event. A contemporary Christian song by a Caucasian worship leader using some Native words and a good beat was selected.

Except in a handful of cases (believers among the Kiowa, Seminole, Comanche, Dakota, Creek, and Crow tribes, to name some)—and those always in a local tribal context—Native believers were not allowed or encouraged to write new praise or worship music in their own languages utilizing their own tribal instruments, style, and arrangements.

What they were encouraged to do was translate Western-style music, hymns, and songs (for example, “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”) into their own languages, fully retaining Western cultural musical constructs.

Participation in traditional powwows, with their key features of drumming/singing and dancing, for many Native Christians has been discouraged or forbidden. Long considered a seditious threat to government control and an obstacle to the evangelization of tribal people, there was a long-concerted effort on the part of the U.S. government and missionary organizations and workers to put an end to these practices. Were it solely in the hands of some Native evangelicals to determine what Native ceremonies, rituals, or other cultural practices would be allowed, all would disappear forever, considered by the historic evangelical mission position to be “of the devil,” thus requiring total elimination.

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VIDEO: An Interview with Queen Quet of the Gullah/Geechee

“A lot of people don’t know that we exist,” says Queen Quet, referring to her people, the Gullah/Geehee Nation, an indigenous group that spans the coastline from North Carolina to Jacksonville, Fla.

In 2006, Congress passed the Gullah/Geechee Heritage Act to help preserve the living culture of this “nation within a nation.” The Gullah/Geechee, however, continue to fight for their heritage as they battle against environmental racism and climate change. Read more in “‘We Are Not an Island’” (Sojourners, August 2014).

Watch this video as Onleilove Alston, a Sojourners board member, sits down with Queen Quet to discuss the environmental rights of the Gullah/Geechee people.

Gullah Geechee Nation Environmental Rights: Video creator, Nailah Robinson (A Black Tribe); editor, Kendria Smith.

 

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Do You Drink Water? Welcome to Idle No More

 Photo by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen

Round dance, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Dec. 31. Photo by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen

I grew up in the Canadian north of Watson Lake, Yukon. My elementary years were spent in a public school with children of the Kaska nation. As I became an adult I was pretty proud of my exposure to and knowledge of indigenous people. But it took a return to Canada after a seven-year sojourn away to make me realize that I knew very little. I did not like the discomfort I had as I walked the city centre streets in Winnipeg, Manitoba, home of the largest urban indigenous population in Canada.

It was then I decided I had to learn. Over the last two years I have pushed myself to read and sit and listen.

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